This week marks 22 years since the Los Angeles police chased former football star O.J. Simpson as he threatened to kill himself after his former wife and a man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time were brutally murdered in the fashionable section of Brentwood in California.
I had been oblivious to the publicity surrounding the murder in June of 1994. On my way from an assignment in Montana, I walked off the jet way of a Delta flight from Helena to Salt Lake City and into a teeming crowd mesmerized around TV monitors in the concourse.
The scene seemed surreal.
“What’s going on?”
“The cops in L.A. are chasing O.J. Simpson.”
“For killing his wife.”
“He killed his wife. Damn near cut her head off. It’s been all over the news. Where the hell have you been?”
I had been holed away in a strip motel in Lincoln, Montana, working on a project involving plans to put a “heap leach” gold mine within 100 yards of the Blackfoot River, the fly fishing mecca immortalized in “The River Runs Through It.”
TV reception in Lincoln, just over the Continental Divide from Montana’s capital in Helena, was spotty at best. So were daily newspapers there or the Internet.
Amy filled me in when I called her with the flight number of my connecting flight into Dulles International Airport. She had just turned on the TV at home in Arlington to catch the circus chase of Simpson’s white Ford Bronco on the California expressways.
It took a little over three hours of flying time and a car service to deliver me, my cameras and luggage to our condo in Arlington. The television in our living room showed police standing by the driveway of Simpson’s home as he still held a fun to his his throat.
By the time he finally surrendered, the carnival in L.A, was in full force and would continue for a year before a jury acquitted him for the murders that most Americans felt he committed.
ESPN brought all the memories of that debacle back this week with its five-part series, “O.J. — Made in America.” I watched the opening segment Sunday night on ABC, then the second chapter on Tuesday before learning ESPN offered the remaining segments via streaming on their web site. So I binge-watched the final three episodes Wednesday evening,
As we all remember, O.J. went home to Brentwood after his acquittal but his life never returned to anything close to normal. The family of Ronald Goldman, the restaurant waiter who delivered a pair of glasses she left at the restaurant and happened upon the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, sued Simpson and won a settlement when a jury found the former football star responsible for the murders.
No longer welcome in Brentwood and despised by many of former fans, he retreated to a home in Florida and was peddling his autographs at sports paraphernalia shows in Las Vegas when he led a group of armed men into an invasion of a souvenir peddler’s hotel room in 2007, reportedly to regain items he claimed were stolen from him.
In 2008, a Nevada judge sentenced Simpson to 33 years in prison. He might be eligible for parole in October 2017. He is reportedly now weighs more than 300 pounds and is on suicide watch at Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada.
Simpson supporters say his prison sentence came from a female judge who wanted to punish him for the murder rap she felt he beat in Los Angeles 22 years ago.
The documentary is a fascinating piece of film that shows the fall of a onetime football icon who seemed to have everything going for him. Interviews with several of his “friends” show a side of Simpson well hidden from the public — one of a major manipulator who hid a darkness that apparently took control and led to the brutal murders.
Simpson admitted to a friend that he did go to Nicole’s house on the night she died. He was mad at what he felt was a snub by her and her family earlier in the day.
“If she hadn’t come to the door with a knife she would still be alive today,” the friend said Simpson told him.
Some say Simpson is ready to publicly confess to the murders. He cannot be tried again, because of “double jeopardy,” and that confession may be part of a deal that he might have to cut next year to gain parole.
But will confession and parole bring peace to Simpson or the families of those murdered in Los Angeles in 1994? The documentary clearly shows his acquittal came because the jury in Los Angeles wanted to punish the L.A. police and criminal justice system for its treatment of Rodney King. It was a trial where racism took center state and the result had little or not relation to the crime.
Today, we see racism on full display in the 2016 Presidential election, where flamboyant Donald Trump wants to use the hatred of minorities by racist whites as a path to the White House.
The ESPN documentary concludes that O.J. Simpson ignored racial causes to gain his fame and wealth by catering to a white society, then relied on attorney Johnny Cochran to turn him into a racist cause to beat the system.
Donald Trump now wants to use hatred of minorities and immigrants to propel him into the leader of America.
“Make America great again,” Trump claims in his campaign slogan.
Sadly, the America he claims he wants to make great is one with a dark side that he hopes to use to serve his own sordid agenda.
One might ask: Is there any way to bring greatness back to America?